City taps brakes on mixed use ordinance

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Just over a week after a rush attempt to push a new mixed use zoning ordinance through the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission and the City Council, the two groups came together and agreed to slow the process of establishing the new ordinance.

“We’re really here because mixed use was being pushed through really quickly without our opportunity to review it,” said P&Z member Steve Messana, who brought his objections to the Council at its Oct. 26 meeting.

The Nov. 5 workshop had been scheduled after the Council chose not to vote on the ordinance Oct. 26 after questions were raised about how the ordinance was written and edited and how it was ushered through P&Z.

Absent from the joint meeting was Mayor Rick Hall – the driving force behind the proposed ordinance – and Council member Steve McIntosh who also serves on the P&Z Commission.

While nothing was decided on the future of the proposed ordinance, everyone agreed that the issue should get much more attention and be on a longer timeline for development.

“There’s a lot of stuff and it’s really important that we take the time to do it right,” said Council member Kathy Canady.

Messana shared the same perspective from the P&Z members.

“I don’t think Planning and Zoning wants to rush into a mixed use zone,” Messana said. “While we did approve a mixed use zone in our prior meeting it was because we were told that it would be voted on by the Council.”

Mentioning additional steps such as a comprehensive plan revision, City Attorney Tad Cleaves said this should be a lengthy process.

“This does take time, I’d say at least five to six months,” said Cleaves.

Community involvement was also a concern, with Cleaves and Canady both mentioning the need for input at public meetings and hearings that are often very lightly attended. Everyone agreed that anything proposed for community input should be less technical and more focused on examples of what development could or might look like.

During the workshop, City Director of Planning David Stallworth – who did not participate in the discussion at the Oct. 26 Council meeting – spent time explaining the basic purpose and principles in a mixed use zoning category.

Currently the City only has the option of meeting the goals of developers looking at a project like mixed use – which typically includes high-density residential and retail combined – through a planned use development.

Stallworth also pointed out that development of mixed use zoning should be connected to a land use map and comprehensive plan, two things that need developing or updating in Liberty Hill.

For Liberty Hill, the most commonly discussed location for mixed use is Seward Junction — the intersection of SH 29 and US 183.

“You got 400 acres, you want to get the most bang for your buck and improve the ad valorem capture and create an urban village right at the corner of two major arterials,” Stallworth said. “I think true mixed use, in order for it to get the real meaning is you have to have the multi-family component because that way the people who live there can work right there or within walking distance.”

The initial push
The P&Z Commission first received a copy of the original proposed ordinance on Oct. 16 prior to its Oct. 20 meeting. But at the meeting, according to Messana, Commissioners were given a revised and “highly redacted” version that the City recommended for approval.

Messana said the original version was primarily written by Stallworth, and the altered version was changed prior to the meeting by Hall and new City Administrator Lacie Hale.

A request was made at that meeting to table the issue, but Messana said they were told the Council would be considering it Oct. 26.

The P&Z Commission voted to approve the originally proposed ordinance according to Messana, but that version was not in the Council packet for consideration or discussion at the Oct. 26 meeting.

At that meeting, Council member Gram Lankford asked for clarification on what the P&Z Commission received regarding the proposed ordinance.

“Both the original and the changed version were presented to the P&Z Commission at the last meeting?” asked Lankford.

Hale said yes, that both were presented, but Messana clarified when Commissioners received the two documents.

“They were both presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Messana said. “We were given advanced notice of the original document, the redacted document was presented at the time of the meeting and we were asked to vote on the redacted document.”

Stallworth was not involved at any point in the discussion Monday, but was present at the meeting when the item came up for consideration. He did not respond to questions regarding his role in the process.

Had the ordinance been approved Oct. 26, there would have been only eight days from the first time either draft was considered by any additional staff, the P&Z or Council to the date it was passed.

The initial discussion of what the ordinance should look like originally included five people.

“The initial discussion about mixed use happened four or five weeks ago,” Hall said Oct. 26. “That was a discussion between myself, Lacie (Hale), (city attorney) Tad (Cleaves), and David (Stallworth) and Matt Powell. It was done due to a developer that is looking to come in to Liberty Hill to do a development that would particularly fall in line with a mixed use project.”

The reason for the quick edits, which Hall said he made along with Hale, was because it was received so close to the meeting date.

“It was given to us at the eleventh hour without staff review and then Lacie and myself reviewed this with changes,” Hall said.

He took issue with a number of items in the originally proposed ordinance, citing references to 12-foot-wide sidewalks, bike racks and confusion over the definition of activity centers among other things.

“I’ll say a couple of the items I saw in it, that Lacie and I discussed, I didn’t feel were what was best for the City,” Hall said. “One of them was all hotels must be an extended stay hotel. Why do we want to limit ourselves?”

He did not speak to the process of how the ordinance made its way to the Council or the argument that it was being rushed through for approval.

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